By Lydia LaFleur, a member of Get Your WordsWorth
The day after Thanksgiving I decided to get a reading on the state of the U.S. economy by going shopping in Midtown. Last year at this time I had gone to Macy’s to buy my son ties for his birthday and Christmas. This year I was aiming for the more upscale Saks Fifth Avenue. It was already dark when I emerged from the subway onto Broadway and 50th Street. The corners of Sixth Avenue were jammed with pedestrians, mostly tourists I guessed, some of whom were headed for Radio City Music Hall where a line was forming. On top of its marque in bright lights sat a huge number 75 celebrating Radio City’s birthday. Across the street what for years had been Lindy’s Restaurant with its famous cheesecake had morphed into the Godiva Chocolatier. Chocolatier indeed! Nothing can erase from my mind that it’s owned by the Campbell Soup Company, but I have to admit their chocolates are delicious and in order to appeal to the American appetite twice as big as other brands of chocolates. Several doors east was “An American Craftsman,” one of the few stores left in Manhattan where one can still buy beautiful arts and crafts not made in China. I was the only one in the store until I went to pay for my purchases, two funky soaps, when there was a surge of customers. The block was now teeming with people emptying out of Radio City. Surprisingly it was a subdued, slow moving crowd, not what I would expect of an audience that had just seen the Rockettes kicking up their heels in unison in its famous Christmas show full of holiday cheer that had a thumbs up review from The New York Times. Midway up the block was another Godiva Chocolatier in the space once occupied by Fanny Farmer. (I wonder if even my middle-aged children remember that once so popular candy shop). That too was full of tourists. As I rounded the corner at Fifth Avenue, individuals (New Yorkers, no doubt) suddenly darted past and in front of me almost knocking me down. I must be a little mad, an 80 year-old woman with stiff knees and failing eyesight trying to stay upright in the Black Friday crowd on Fifth Avenue. I felt timid and vulnerable.
I managed to cross the street and entered Saks where I had to wend my way past all the cosmetic sales people who reminded me of the street merchants in Turkey. The main floor looked festive and full of potential buyers, but the sixth floor men’s department was quite empty except for the elegantly dressed sales clerks. Table upon table of ties with signs above saying 25% off. The first tie I looked at was $180 and not on sale. From Italy, so what do you expect with the strong Euro far outstripping the dollar. I went from display to display and marveled that there could be so many unimaginative and dull looking ties until my eyes lit on a tie which someone had removed from the orderly array. It was a heavy silk with very fine lines of two alternating shades of lavener. It was $130, a Giorgio Armani. “I’m sorry, that one’s not on sale.” By now I had looked at several hundred ties; maybe I should go to Macy’s, but how would I survive the crowds! As I headed back to the exit, the sales clerk that had helped me earlier said, “I’ve been looking for you. That tie is on sale; it’s $73.” I hesitated. Would my son wear it? He’s pretty conservative in his dress; well if he won’t wear it, I will. And with that, the decision was made.
Madison Avenue was dark and deserted except for two young couples I walked by who were conversing in a foreign language. Christmas had not yet arrived on Madison Avenue. I stopped in at Talbots on 54th Street to pick up a sweater I had ordered; I was the only customer. I boarded a #4 bus. That, too, had very few people, but sitting opposite me was a youngish looking overweight blonde haired woman with two little blond haired boys, one of whom was on her lap half asleep. As they were getting off in the 80s, I remarked “They’re tired.” “Yes,” she replied, “but we had a wonderful day.” I wondered what they had done all day, but it didn’t matter. Seeing them had brought back the feel of Christmas again.
Lydia LaFleur worked thirty-two years for The New York Public Library as a librarian specializing in work with teen agers. After retiring in 1987, she has continued to enjoy life as co-founder of The Morningside Players, a community theater in Morningside Gardens where she lives, performing in many roles over the past twenty-eight years, and also as a participant for the last fourteen years in the writing workshop “Writing from Life Experience” led by Susan Willerman. She is the mother of two wonderful children, a son and a daughter, and four grandchildren.